Tue, 2021-03-02 02:26

There has been a reversal of roles in the Yamaha camp. The youthful Fabio Quartararo has swapped the confines of the Petronas Yamaha SRT team for the Monster Energy Yamaha factory team. In turn, the 42-year-old hoary veteran Valentino Rossi has been demoted from the factory squad into what is supposed to be the junior team, where young talent is nurtured and prepared to move up to the factory team.

Given the relative performance of the two Yamaha teams in 2020, it seems wrong to class Rossi's move as a demotion, or Quartararo's as a promotion. The Petronas Yamaha team finished second in the 2020 team championship, while the Monster Energy Yamaha team finished sixth. Petronas Yamaha's Franco Morbidelli was the best-placed Yamaha rider, ending the season in second, while factory rider Maverick Viñales finished just 5 points ahead of second Petronas man Quartararo.

In that light, the rider reshuffle seems almost irrelevant. All four Yamaha riders will be on more or less the same spec of machines as in 2020, albeit with updates to start the 2021 season. Franco Morbidelli starts on an upgraded A-spec bike based on the 2019 Yamaha M1, while new teammate Valentino Rossi and factory riders Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo will race heavily revised version of the 2020 Yamaha. The engine homologation freeze for 2021 instigated at the start of the 2020 season in light of the Covid-19 pandemic means the difference in engine performance will be negligible.

First mover disadvantage

So why bother? Two factors led directly to Rossi's arrival in the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, where he joins Morbidelli. The first was the MotoGP fad of signing contracts ever earlier, in an attempt to head off rival factories in a fiercely competitive rider market. That trend saw Maverick Viñales sign a contract for 2021 back in January of 2020, and then Fabio Quartararo promoted to the factory team ahead of the Sepang MotoGP test in February 2020. Both riders were signed for 2021 even before testing for the 2020 season had begun.

The second was the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the start of the MotoGP season pushed back all the way to July. With 14 races crammed into an 18-week period, that left little time for careful evaluations of riders over the course of several races. Decisions had to be made early, based on the risk of losing valued riders to other teams, and the relative benefits of signing an experienced rider versus a rookie from Moto2.

After the online launch of the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad, Team Principal Razlan Razali and Team Director Johan Stigefelt explained via the now customary zoom media debrief how they arrived at the line up they have for 2021, and their plans for the coming years. They gave a deep and frank assessment of things that went wrong in 2020, as well as of their major successes. And they shared their expectations of 2021, and their vision of what comes after that.

Both the presentation and the interviews given by Razali and Stigefelt emphasized how much of a Malaysian and Southeast Asian team Petronas is. With Petronas as the title sponsor, and the Sepang Circuit as an important part of the infrastructure, the team is heavily focused on that region and its markets.

The arrival of Valentino Rossi in the team is relevant here. The Italian legend has a massive following throughout the entire region, and his popularity has helped grow the popularity of the sport there.

"Overwhelming for a lot of the fans," is how Razlan Razali described Rossi joining the Petronas team. "In Malaysia and Southeast Asia, there are a lot of Valentino fans. I can remember that when I was managing the Sepang circuit, we had one whole grandstand of just Valentino tribute in the first corner, I think K1. I think we sold 18,000 tickets just on Valentino alone."

That enthusiasm would only increase, Razali predicted. "Before they were supporting him in a factory team, in the Yamaha factory team, in the blue colors. And now Valentino is joining us in a national team, in a Malaysian team. It's something that is quite exciting and overwhelming for the fans. It's important for us to have a Malaysian grand prix in October this year so we can race at home, and with Valentino racing in the team, it will be fantastic for the Malaysian grand prix, and the Malaysian fans and Southeast Asian fans."

The Malaysian grand prix has gone from having a handful of spectators to be completely sold out, and the region's fans are some of the most passionate and dedicated in the world. The Southeast Asian market is now a mature market for MotoGP. That was clear from the fact that the first two questions of Razlan Razali's debrief went to a Malaysian and an Indonesian journalist respectively. Both experienced and knowledgeable regulars in the MotoGP paddock, asking well-informed and hard-hitting questions.

The privateer

While Valentino Rossi's contract is a factory deal with Yamaha, to ride in the Petronas Yamaha team, Franco Morbidelli is contracted directly with the team. Unlike Ducati and Honda, where the satellite riders all have factory contracts, Morbidelli is paid by and has a deal with the Petronas Yamaha SRT squad.

Razlan Razali explained how that came about. "Well, after our first year, in the second year, the focus was very much on Fabio, and there was less emphasis on Frankie," the Team Principal explained. That was to be expected, given the phenomenal rookie season Quartararo had had in 2019, which was in stark contrast to Morbidelli's modest first year on a Yamaha.

But the Italian turned that around over the winter of 2020. "He had a good off season to prepare himself for 2020, and he came strong and we know the results," Razali said. "But when we started the championship in July, it's also the time we have to look to the future. And at that time, we had the two Jerez races, and that's where the problems started with Frankie's bike, mechanical problems. And though he was more consistent than Fabio, he only started to shine in Brno, to get his first podium."

Despite being just three races into the season, Petronas was forced to make a quick decision on Morbidelli. "At that time we could not wait and risk other teams talking to Frankie, and we are in a pandemic year where we don't want to take any risks looking at other riders. So continuity was important, so that's why we decided to sign Frankie directly for the next two years until 2022."

That early decision is why Morbidelli has ended up with a 2019 A-spec Yamaha for 2021. Given that Morbidelli finished second in the championship in 2020, that is not necessarily a disadvantage. Yamaha had explained their strategy to the Petronas team in 2019, Razali said, Morbidelli's 2019-spec M1 both a benchmark and a fallback position should development of the 2020 machine take a wrong turn.

"With Frankie's bike, this is what Yamaha have told us as well during the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2019, it's that the 2020 bike is a totally new bike," Razali explained. "If they develop it better, it can be great, if not, they have the risk of problems. So they wanted us to have two kind of specs so that the 2019 bike is like a fallback if anything untoward happens with the new bike."

To some extent, that is the scenario which played out, with the 2020 M1 dominant at some races and nowhere at others, while Morbidelli climbed to second in the championship thanks to consistently challenging for wins and podiums. "That's not to say that the 2020 bike is completely not very good, because the 2020 bike won 4 races collectively with Fabio and Maverick," Razali insisted. "It's just that the lack of testing by the test teams, no testing during the year, so they couldn't develop the bike any further, any more than they can. And it is a bike in its first year. So I believe they have already identified all these problems, and it will be better this year."

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Mon, 2021-03-01 02:06

The 2020 MotoGP season was something of a schizophrenic affair for Yamaha. On the one hand, a Yamaha won 7 of the 14 MotoGP races last year, with Franco Morbidelli finishing second in the riders' championship, Yamaha finishing second in the constructors' championship, and the Petronas Yamaha SRT team ending second in the teams' standings.

On the other hand, Yamaha's most successful rider was in a satellite team on a 2019-spec bike. Of the 7 Yamaha victories last year, the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team had just a single one. Morbidelli took 5 podiums on the 2019 M1, while Maverick Viñales, Valentino Rossi, and Fabio Quartararo scored just 7 podiums combined. The first factory Yamaha in the championship – Maverick Viñales – finished in 6th, behind the Suzukis, a Ducati, a KTM, and Morbidelli on the 2019 M1.

There was the valve saga which saw Yamaha have points deducted in the constructors' championship for using non-homologated parts – switching valves between suppliers, and thereby breaking the homologation rules. And there were the brake issues at the Red Bull Ring, where the Yamaha riders insisted on using the older, smaller Brembo calipers which suffered overheating and even brake failure in the case of Viñales.

Was 2020 a good year for Yamaha? Yes. And no. Most of all, it was an inconsistent year, with the M1 (especially in factory guise) either at the front or struggling to score points. The 2020 Yamaha M1 showed lots of promise. But it also had some serious, and painfully obvious, flaws.

What does 2020 portend for 2021? With engine development frozen for the coming season, finding significantly more horsepower looks like an uphill task. But the engine freeze also means that at least Yamaha know their horsepower deficit will not get worse, Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis said at the launch of the Monster Energy Yamaha team's 2021 campaign.

"In terms of the performance level, in terms of pure horsepower, we know that we have a deficit to our competitors, so this will remain the same," Jarvis said. "But one of the advantages of this engine freeze situation is that the situation stays the same. If everybody was allowed to develop the engine, you could develop more horsepower. But maybe your your competitors can develop even more horsepower. So in this situation, I think it's fairly predictable how our performance will be, and let's see."

"Engine development is frozen, but it's just one element of the bike," Takahiro Sumi, Yamaha's MotoGP Project Leader said. "All other areas are open to development." Yamaha would use the parts not subject to homologation – exhaust, airbox, electronics – to try to improve engine performance.

Only KTM and Aprilia will have new engines for 2021, limiting the steps Yamaha's rivals can make. That gave Jarvis confidence, the Yamaha MD said. " I think we'll do fine. We won 7 races without having the same horsepower as our competitors, so I think we can do the same again."

Trouble brewing

Yamaha ran into problems at the very first race in 2020. At the Jerez round, both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales suffered engine failures, which would later be traced an issue with the valves used. The extreme heat of Jerez in July, coupled with a manufacturing process which created problems with durability, meant that the valves had to be swapped for items from the original supplier.

It later transpired that the Jerez valves were illegal under the homologation rules, as the valves from the original supplier were the ones they had homologated at the canceled Qatar round at the start of the season. Yamaha were later punished for that breach of the rules.

Will Yamaha face a similar problem, now that the engine homologation is frozen? Fortunately for them, the original supplier was able to produce sufficient valves for Yamaha for the 2021 season. "We were plagued by technical problems last year which showed up at the very first race of the season, even before the first race, and that was a problem for us to deal with," Lin Jarvis. "But fortunately for us, the valves in the engines that were homologated and the valves that we're going to be running in the engines this year are the good ones. So we're fortunate in that sense that we start the year with the valves that we know have no technical defect."

The sudden need to manage 13 races with just three – or in the case of Franco Morbidelli, two – engines had been extremely stressful, but also extraordinarily educational. Yamaha engineers and crew chiefs learned some very valuable lessons from having to cope with a reduced engine supply. Yamaha learned a lot about the durability of the engine, and how to minimize stress and wear on the engine using electronics and engine management systems.

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Mon, 2021-02-22 22:32

Marc Márquez' absence has left a gaping hole in MotoGP for the last seven months. Sure, the racing has been fantastic, and Joan Mir was a worthy winner of the 2020 title. But the fact that the man who won six of the last eight championships was missing from the series was the elephant in the room throughout last season, a presence noted all the more for his not being there.

The significance of Márquez' absence has been made all the greater by the near total radio silence out of the Spaniard's entourage. With the exception of a single interview given to Spanish TV broadcaster DAZN, the only thing that we have heard from Marc Márquez have been leaks from various sources around him.

The last time the general media had a chance to speak to the six-time MotoGP champion was last July, at the second round at Jerez, after his abortive comeback from the injury sustained in the first race. Márquez shattered the humerus in his right upper arm when he crashed out between Turns 3 and 4 at the opening MotoGP race of the season at Jerez. Márquez was doing push ups just hours after surgery, and decided to try to race at the Andalusian Grand Prix at Jerez, just a few days later.

Too early

Márquez would come to regret that decision. He rode on Saturday, but was forced to give up when he felt something shift in his arm, and he lost the strength to control a MotoGP machine. Then, a week later, the plate holding his humerus together broke from the strain of trying to open a heavy glass French window. Two operations followed, one to replace the broken plate, and another to replace the second plate, treat an infection in the humerus and insert material to promote bone growth.

Though rumors of an imminent return abounded throughout his absence, Márquez did not come back to racing in 2020. And indeed, it is far from certain that he will be ready at the first race in Qatar, though that remains his objective.

After the online launch of the Repsol Honda MotoGP Team for 2021, the general media finally had a chance to speak directly to Márquez. The Spaniard was open and direct, though there were still some things left unsaid, in part due to a lack of time. So what did we learn from what Marc Márquez told us? And what did we learn from what he didn't say?

The bigger pictures

The most important lesson Márquez learned from all this is a sense of perspective. "I learned a few things," the Repsol Honda rider responded when asked. "One of them is we take a lot of risk all the time. And sometimes we try to come back as soon as possible." That was not always the right choice, he said. "It’s not the most important thing to come back as soon as possible. This is what I learned in 2020. We did a mistake to come back in Jerez, and we must accept that mistake."

Márquez shouldered most of the blame for that decision. "It was a consequence of many things," he said, referring to the chain of events and discussions that had gone on between rider, team, his management, and the doctors. "But in the end, the last decision was mine. I felt I was able to do it. But I learned from that situation for the future."

Motorcycle racing is a team sport, Márquez emphasized, so there was no point trying to point fingers in search of a scapegoat. "In the end it was a decision of everybody. When we won a title we always speak about team and the people around me. When we do a mistake we must speak about everything. Of course the last decision is mine."

But Márquez hinted at not getting enough pushback from the medical profession, the doctors who operated on him and at the track. "When me, Honda and my team receive a good feeling from the doctors, then of course you try, because you know the riders, and you know how the riders are. If you say they can try, then they try."

Márquez paid a heavy price for that hubris. "I felt I was able to try," he said. "But what I felt was not what my body needed. This was the main thing."

Here too, he gained a sense of perspective. "At that point I don’t want to push the doctors. I mean, we took many, many decisions and we took many, many risks in the past already with other injuries. When it’s going in a good way we say it was a miracle, something that wasn’t human."

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Mon, 2021-02-22 12:20

The Repsol Honda team issued transcripts of the interviews from the Repsol Honda online launch. In the video, Marc Marquez talked about his recovery, his injury, and his expectations for 2021. Below is the transcript, the questions were asked by Honda PR:

Q: First of all, Marc, how are you and how is the recovery?

“Yeah of course, step by step I feel much better and the recovery is going in a good way and this is the most important thing. Every time that I went to the doctor, normally we had good news - that’s really important because last year was quite long and tough. But now, you know, we just try to follow my body with the physio, with the doctor and try to increase the work at home. I can’t say because I don’t know, and the doctors don’t know, when I will be ready. But the most important thing is that every week, not every day, but every week, I feel a bit better and I’m optimistic to be on the bike as soon as possible. I don’t know exactly when the day will be.”

Q: What are you aiming for in 2021?

“Normally the goal for a season, for a rider, is to try and win the championship and find small details to fight for the championship. But this 2021 season is completely different, my main goal is trying to enjoy being on the bike again. This will be the main target for me: to be on the bike again, enjoy the bike and then step by step start to be as fast as I was. But this will be, it’s something that you need to understand, and you can’t pretend to arrive one year without being on the bike and be the same Marc in the first race. It’s something that we must understand, and the main target is what I said, to enjoy being on the bike.”

Q: Do you think you will need time to adapt back to riding?

“The thing is that’s a difficult question because it’s the first time in my life, in my career, that there has been six, seven, eight, nine, ten months without a bike, with a big injury. Of course, the first time that I will ride the bike I will not be truly 100% because you know, one thing is to be 100% on the bone side, then being 100% on the muscles and all these things. We will see, I can imagine the best comeback that is to start riding the bike again and be the same, but it will be difficult to be like this. But we will see if it takes one race, two races, half the season to be the same Marc.”

Q: Who do you see as your biggest rival in 2021?

“The main opponents this year, honestly, now if I am honest, I don’t care. I don’t care who will be the strongest one because I have other goals but obviously to answer your question; it will be Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki. Of course, Suzuki, Mir is the World Champion so he must, he is the guy to defend the title. Suzuki did a great job last year, so they are the guys to beat and Yamaha, Ducati, and even KTM finished in a very good way with Oliveira, so yeah. But now I don’t care, it’s not my battle.”

Q: What did you miss most about not being at the races in 2020?

“Of course, I missed the entire team a lot, this is what I miss. But obviously I miss racing, I miss the adrenaline, but I miss everything a bit. Normally I hate events and all these things but also, I missed them. In the first part of the injury, you miss being on the track, to be racing and competing and having that adrenaline. Then you start to miss your team a lot, then you start to miss the atmosphere from the circuits and then you miss even the events, the interviews, the journalists but now step by step, it’s what I said, I feel that this feeling will come back soon.”

Q: You have raced against Pol for almost your entire career, how do you see him as a rider?

“Pol is a great rider, I battled against him in 125, since I was eight years old, we have raced together. Normally he was older than me and normally he beat me in the smallest categories but then when we arrived in the World Championship, we had a great battle in 2010, we also had a great battle in the Moto2 championship in 2012. This year past, 2020, he did an amazing season with KTM and his level was good, so I think that he has the talent that he needs, he’s coming from a great factory with great results and he’s arriving in the best team and needs to be on the podium in every race and to fight there in the top five, top three.”

Q: What is your first memory of Pol and which memory stands out the most in your mind?

“When I was 11 years old it was the first time that we were teammates in the RACC Impala with a Honda bike. It was in the Catalan Championship and that season he won the championship, I think I finished second or third, I don’t remember. But it was my first season, his second season in 125. We shared the team, then we passed to another team together to RACC CajaMadrid that was also with Honda. He was in the Spanish Championship and I was in the Catalan Championship and yeah, since that year he followed his way and I followed my way with different teams, same racetracks, nearly the same results but different teams. You can’t imagine as an 11-year-old you share a team and now at 27 years old you share a team again.”

Wed, 2021-02-17 17:04

Two major changes on the Monster Energy Yamaha bikes this year. 1: the black is blacker

2: no 46

... except if you zoom in closely to the right shoulder...

Red is the new yellow

Fun games, trying to zoom and decipher the meaning of the frame number - YZR M1 B xxxx ?

I'm no aesthete, but that is a nice helmet design

Maverick, meanwhile, rocks more of the same from last year. Nothing wrong with that

Side-on launch shots always have the forks turned at a slight angle, to prevent smart people from figuring out wheelbase & geometry...

Nerdiness: the old Brembo calipers fitted to this bike, the type that was abandoned after Maverick Viñales' spectacular failure at Austria last year

Of note: torque meter on the output shaft, and the thin light-blue pipe which is used to recharge the compressed air reservoir for the pneumatic valves

High speed and low speed compression adjustment on the rear Ohlins shock easily accessible for fast changes

Aluminum swingarm still attached, the preferred option of the factory team from 2020. Expect the exhaust to change for 2021, one of the few ways of tuning power with an engine freeze

Note the scooter brake on the left-hand handlebar

Yamaha's tail light for the rain is one of the most elegant in MotoGP

Circuit background projected against a greenscreen for the presentation left us wondering if this really was meant to be Sepang

Racing tuck

New groom

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Mon, 2021-02-15 23:45


After two months of quiet on the MotoGP front, the racing season is starting to burst into action. With the first test at Qatar approaching – and looking ever more likely to actually take place – there is a burst of activity, as the factories all hold their team launches. So frenetic, indeed, that we barely have a moment to ponder one launch before we are onto the next.

That is in part a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In previous years, launches have been live events with an online element. (Manufacturers, both in racing and production, have learned that they can reach fans and buyers directly with online launches, without journalists sitting in the middle and muddying the message. Series organizers are on this path now as well.) While the pandemic still holds the world in its grip, those launches have moved completely online, with different factories taking different approaches.

Ducati were, as almost every year, the first manufacturer to launch their 2021 MotoGP project. You can watch the video on Ducati's YouTube channel or see it below, something worth doing. The video is well-produced, as you might expect, but it also provides real insight into what Ducati is doing (though, of course, not too much). As in previous years, they have one of their engineering specialists appearing in the launch. This time, it is Gabriele Conti, Ducati Corse Electronics Systems Manager, talking about some of the issues related to electronics.

Processing power

The reason they have Gabriele Conti on display is to showcase their new title sponsor. For the first time since the banning of tobacco sponsorship forced Ducati to abandon their Marlboro name at the end of 2009, the Italian factory has a name sponsor. For 2021, they will be known as the Ducati Lenovo team, partnering with the Chinese technology giant for the next three years. It is a relationship which started in 2018, and is now being expanded to a title role.

Of course, this does not mean that Phillip Morris, the tobacco giant which has backed Ducati since they entered the premier class back in 2003, have stepped away from the Italian manufacturer. Mission Winnow, the innovation project which serves as a shell company for PM's tobacco sponsorship, is still a major backer of Ducati. Mission Winnow is listed second on Ducati's list of sponsors behind Lenovo but ahead of Audi Sport, the brand's owners. Like the opening credits of a movie, the sponsors are listed in order of significance. Significance in this instance being largely a synonym for financial contribution.

That said, Lenovo is a natural partner for Ducati. The Italian factory has long been at the forefront of using computers to model every aspect of the motorcycle. While everyone is now using computational fluid dynamics to model aerodynamics, and various methods to model materials and engine performance, Ducati have expanded that to every aspect of the bike. Their partnership with Megaride to model tire performance is one example of where Ducati have been pioneers.

"Lenovo is not a new partner for us," Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna explained. "We have worked with them since 2018, and so we know them very well, and we evolve our IT technology with them in the last few years. And so it's quite normal for us to introduce new computers and new things that Lenovo can supply to us. For sure it's really important to evolve the IT technology, because the simulation of the bike has increased quite a lot in a few years, and now in particular for the aerodynamics, and many other things, we need a lot of power and Lenovo is the best partner for that, I think."

Gabriele Conti, Ducati Corse Electronics Systems Manager, went a little deeper into this subject, explaining how important a reliable and fast IT infrastructure is, not just at the factory, but also at the track, to analyze and examine the data coming from the bikes when they come into the garage.

"There are around five minutes, maybe four, to download all the data, talk to the rider, see what's happened and use our tools to put together a new package of thousands of new parameters to send back to the bike," Conti explained in the launch video. "Here are a few numbers: on the motorbike, we have about 50 sensors. But we are talking about 500 channels, because the software continues its calculations. All these numbers and data are aggregated by our control center, which has to wait for the bike to return to the pit. This means that we need to tailor-make the suit while it is being worn, so to speak."

Bespoke settings

Tailoring the bike to each rider is a necessity, Conti explained. "While the engine is the same for everyone, the electronics each rider has are extremely personalized and customized so that when they are on the track, they're comfortable. Because if they aren't, it's too late. You can't change."

Reliability was crucial to success. "It all has to work, because losing a connection on the grid just before the start means not starting. So the reliability of the IT tools that we use, which Lenovo is helping us with, is comparable to the reliability of the engine, because starting or not starting is like breaking the engine. And it was fundamental to have the right machines to manage this huge amount of data extremely quickly."

Computers and data processing touched every aspect of Ducati's work, Conti explained. "Apart from the electronics, many of these services serve other areas, like engine development and aerodynamics, which in recent years have demanded enormous calculation capacity."

Ducati's pioneering in aerodynamics and simulation technology has been the envy of the other MotoGP manufacturers. "We think we have a group of engineers and technicians at the very highest level, as well as the capacity to make unconventional choices, innovations devised and developed by Ducati engineers, which were then seen and applied by almost all the other manufacturers," Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti said.

Those engineers are constantly at risk of being poached by the other manufacturers. Michele Gada and Marco Frigerio, two electronics specialists who defected to Yamaha to apply their expertise to the spec Magneti Marelli electronics of the M1, are two of the most high profile examples in recent years. "Ducati engineers are very highly thought of in the paddock," team manager Davide Tardozzi said. "Every year someone tries to poach one or two or three of them, but it makes me very happy that many of them turn down those offers and prefer to stay at Ducati where they have learned and grown and continue to develop."

The innovations – some loved, some hated – are indicative of the freedom given to Ducati's engineers to try out new ideas, explore new solutions to existing problems. That creativity is visible in the way Ducati gets around technical restrictions put in their way by the rule makers. Ducati responded to the introduction of spec electronics by switching their focus to aerodynamics to control wheelie. When the Grand Prix Commission clamped down on aerodynamics, Ducati first introduced a holeshot device to control wheelie at the start of the race, then adapted it for use throughout the race, in the form of the "shapeshifter", or suspension lowering device.

Where Ducati led, others have followed. Every bike on the grid now has aerodynamic winglets within the bounds of the MotoGP regulations. They all either have a holeshot device, or are working on one. And most now also have a shapeshifter of some form or other. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, Gigi Dall'Igna concedes. "At the end, it's a question of pride, because after the inevitable reflex of anger, being copied by the Japanese is actually a big compliment."

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Sat, 2021-02-13 15:26

Never change a winning formula. Red Bull KTM 2021 is virtually indistinguishable from Red Bull KTM 2020

Funnily enough, the Tech3 satellite colors look more like they should be the factory livery

Biggest change? Brad Binder's number is yellow, rather than white. And Miguel Oliveira doubles Pol Espargaro's 44 to 88

Advantage of signing a rider from your junior satellite team? You can do the factory photoshoot at the end of the previous season

Miguel Oliveira looks ahead to 2021

*insert vrooming noises*

Brad Binder shows Miguel Oliveira where the factory "Go Faster" button is located. Oliveira is not sure he needs it, after winning two races

That new number for Binder

Electronic throttle, Brembo brakes

KTM are the only manufacturer to use WP suspension in the premier class. So far...

Carbon swingarm was a big deal for KTM when it was introduced in 2019. Made tuning stiffness much easier

Ubiquitous Akrapovic on the RC16

KTM's mustache wings

The part of the bike you want your rivals to see as frequently as possible

No funky thumb/scooter brake caliper here. One hydraulic line means foot operated rear brake

The steel frame remains

The office: kill switch and neutral lever on the right, engine brake/mapping/TC switches on the left

Launch photos artfully designed to display sponsor logos rather than bike parts. Pankl build engine internals for KTM

Clutch, brake adjuster, but not rear brake lever

Serrations on the fairing edge to reduce drag from the edges

Tech3's new boy, Danilo Petrucci, back in a factory-supported satellite squad

Snake by Akrapovic

Back for another shot. Iker Lecuona had his ups and downs in 2020. Hoping for ups in 2021

The hot seat

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Thu, 2021-02-11 21:58

In the last weeks of December, Japan's leading MotoGP journalist Akira Nishimura spoke to two of the key players in Honda's MotoGP project: Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu. As a native Japanese speaker, Nishimura-san got more out of the HRC bosses than an English-speaking journalist would. The conversation covered Honda's MotoGP riders, an analysis of their thoroughly mediocre 2020 season, and their expectations for 2021.

In 2020, Honda had to endure a tough season, in contrast to previous years. Needless to say, one of the biggest reasons for that was the absence of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). His right humerus fracture at the opening round in Jerez sidelined the eight-time world champion for all the races of the 2020 season, a costly loss for HRC.

Meanwhile, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IEMITSU) made a significant improvement in both riding skills and race results. Also, MotoGP rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) did a fantastic job with two second-place finishes despite it being his debut year in the premier class. On the other hand, the Brit Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) decided to draw his racing career to a close at the end of the year. With these abundant topics for the review of the 2020 season and the preview for the forthcoming 2021 season, we interviewed Honda Racing Corporation General Manager Tetsuhiro Kuwata and 2020 RC213V development leader Takehiro Koyasu.

First of all, we asked them for a comprehensive review and the preview, then moved on to the detailed Q&A with them.

Kuwata: "It is quite simple. We lost entirely throughout the 2020 season. However, we also learned a lot from these defeats, and we believe these hardships will make us even stronger.

After we had finished the preseason tests, we were still struggling to find an optimal setup for Michelin’s 2020 rear tire. Then, the first race was canceled and postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although it was a very tough situation for us, we didn’t give up and continued development. When the season resumed at Jerez for the Spanish GP in July, Marc demonstrated very strong riding from the start of the weekend. Unfortunately, he suffered from an injury in Sunday’s race. After that, we always tried to find the best way to have our riders exploit the bike's potential until the end of the season.

It is true that we had to change our plan more or less due to Marc’s injury. Nevertheless, Taka did very good races to fight for the podium, so we supported him as much as we could and provided updated parts to get good results. In the meantime, Alex finished second in the French GP and the Aragon GP. In terms of the tire issues that we had had to struggle with at the beginning, we started understanding how to adjust in the second half of the season, and when the season finished, we had confidence that we were at a new starting point for the 2021 season."

About the difference between the 2020 RC213V and the 2019 spec, Koyasu-san explained it as follows.

Koyasu: "As always, we reviewed everything about the engine and chassis. Specifically, we focused on the improvement of power and driveability. In the chassis area, our main focus was the stability in acceleration/deceleration, cornering, and traction. We reviewed not only large components such as the frame and swingarm but also tiny parts and their placement. Also, regarding the electronics, we think we made a good step forward in terms of deceleration stability."

As Kuwata mentioned above, the setup adjustment for the 2020 Michelin tire required a huge effort for Honda. Koyasu reviewed the process of their searching and finding a good compromise.

Koyasu: "The question was how to understand the 2020 tire and how to exploit its ‘feel.’ We repeated a process of trial and error many times, then started close observation for the rear suspension stroke to deal with the issue we had. It worked well to some extent, which brought Nakagami’s good results and Alex’s podium in the second half of the season, I suppose."

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Tue, 2021-02-09 17:10

Lenovo arrives as title sponsor for Ducati

The long tail

Launch bikes are always from the previous year, but even so, the bulbous tail of the Ducati is clear

Any doubt that this is last year's bike can be removed by zooming in on the frame number

New Brembo brakes, narrow front aero below the wheel axle. Ducati occasionally use a much wider version

Front and rear: 2020 aero looks better in red

Black carbon fiber weave on the inside of the wings is gorgeous sponsoring the MotoGP team as well as the WorldSBK team

Cockpit details: neutral selection lever on the right hand side (note the date stamped on the bracket). But no thumb brake for Jack Miller

Big thumb brake paddle on the left for Pecco Bagnaia. Missing: the shapeshifter lever. Unless the neutral lever has been moved

Side view


The role which Michele Pirro has played in Ducati's success simply cannot be overstated

Jack Miller

Pecco Bagnaia


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Fri, 2021-02-05 22:20

For the first time since 2014, a rider prepares to defend the MotoGP title for the first time in their career. But the circumstances in which Joan Mir is preparing for the 2021 season are very different to who Marc Márquez prepared after he won his first MotoGP title back in 2013. The Covid-19 pandemic means no mass celebrations, no jetting around the world to have his photo taken with sponsors, to fulfill the requirements in his contract. No going directly from the previous season into testing, with barely a break in between.

Joan Mir has had plenty of time at home, with media engagements few and far between, a necessary consequence of the pandemic. He has been in his home in Andorra, training, working to get ready for the coming season. Earlier this week, he spoke to a group of journalists about the year ahead. And here, too, he reaped the benefits of the pandemic: he participated in a large-scale media event from comfort of his home. No time wasted traveling, just change into a team shirt, sit down behind a laptop, and fire up the webcam.

He was as professional in the zoom debrief as he has been in every aspect of his career. And the zoom debrief was as well-organized and smoothly-run as we have come to expect from the Suzuki Ecstar team. It's hardly a surprise that Joan Mir won the 2020 MotoGP title.

Mir started off telling us about how he had been spending the winter.

JM: I feel great. Honestly, I'm quite happy about the preseason we are doing. I'm trying to do as much moto as I can. Also training here in the gym, also doing the skimo, it's something that benefits me a lot. And I almost didn't stop since the championship finished because I was always training, I was one week out on holidays with my girlfriend and then just training. A little bit boring but it's like this, sorry!

Q: How has your life changed since becoming champion? Do people recognize you more often when you go out?

JM: Yes, this is the main difference. When I go to a restaurant probably at least one or two people recognize me, and before it was not like this. And in Andorra even more. Normally in Andorra they recognize you but they don’t ask for photos. The people are like this here. And I can't imagine in Majorca! I haven't been to Majorca, but for sure there life would change completely I think! But the rest is the same. I train the same. When I make a three minute moto with the motocross I still have arm pump! It's always like this!

Q: With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, and the racing uncertain, it looks like we will have another strange start to season, with races canceled and back-to-back races at some circuits. Will the experience from last year make it easier to prepare? Will you prepare any different now you are champion?

JM: No, the way to prepare for the championship is always the same. I normally do a preparation preseason based on the moto training and with the gym and cardio. This is always the same. If the championship is short, long or whatever.

It's true that now I will have more experience, if we do the calendar like last year. But it's also true that it's the same for all my rivals!

So we will have more experience to do a championship like last year. I hope it's a more normal championship, but it will be what Covid will want. So let's see what championship awaits us and let's give 100% and try to defend the title.

Q: When Marc won the championship, we would automatically say he was the favorite for next year. Are you the favorite for 2021, now that you are champion?

JM: It’s true that when Marc won the title, he was the favorite for the next year. This year, inside of me, I'm the man to beat, but probably I'm not the favorite. But I feel like this, no? I think that I have to show much more to be the favorite. It's true that last year we won the championship not by speed, we won by consistency and by being clever.

I think that the margin I have to improve the speed is probably not the same as other people with more experience. So we have on paper good tools to defend, but I don't feel I will be the favorite. I will be the man to beat but not the favorite. Let's see. If I won this year then I will be the favorite anyway.

I'm looking forward for this year and to try to show more, to enjoy more and to be a better rider. That is my goal for this season. If I'm able to repeat the title I will be super happy because at the end it's what everyone wants. The goal is that one, but inside of me I want to be better. I don’t care about the championship, okay at end it's the important thing, but I want to be better. I want to start to make pole positions, I want to start to win more races, and then if I'm able to do that, I'm already constant. So let's try to improve in that area.

Q: Who do you see as the favorite?

JM: For me the favorite if he comes back at 100% is Marc. He is the favorite. He has more experience than me. More titles. More speed, and he's the man to beat. If you remove Marc, I don’t see any favorite. Probably it's me, in that case. But with Marc on track, it will be Marc.

Q: Did you make any changes in your team? Do you have a spotter or riding coach?

JM: I would like to hear everything that needs improving, it’s something I'm always interested to do. But I think that inside our team we have a little bit what we can call a coach. We don’t have the name, but we have something that helps us to improve our skills.

Also we have the data. I have a super strong teammate who I'm able to compare with, and if I'm watching at the barriers, even if I'm world champion or whatever, it's difficult for me to find the difference between one rider and another riding three tenths slower than the other. It's a little bit difficult! For sure if you have the experience you can see different type of riding styles, of the Ducati, Suzuki, different bikes. But it's really difficult to see from the outside.

Q: Your teammate, Alex Rins, was a big rival last season, finishing third in the championship even though he was injured in the first race. Will he be a bigger threat this season?

JM: No, I think he will be as strong as last season. He was injured in the first part of the season, but then it's true that he was more and more competitive. We were fighting with each other in every Grand Prix. He finished third in the end, I think that everybody made mistakes. And we will see what happens next season, probably it's not easy to make all the season without making mistakes. The injuries, the crashes, this is always a part of our job, and we have to manage in the best way that we can. And I think that Alex made a good job in this way. He will be competitive for sure, but not more competitive, he was already really strong.

Q: [Team Director] Shinichi Sahara and [Technical Manager] Ken Kawauchi in Japan said the target for 2021 is winning the triple crown, fighting for the podium in every race, and finishing 1-2 in championship…

JM: I'm super happy to hear about Suzuki, that the goal is that, because it means they are beating hard. They are pushing to make this team even better than we had. So this is super great to hear.

Always it's really difficult and they know more than everyone that it's really difficult to win every year and really difficult to make super good results every year. But for sure if we continue with that mentality, working mentality with high status, then we will be able to do it if not this year we will be able to repeat it I'm 100% sure.

Q: What was your reaction to team boss Davide Brivio leaving the team for Formula 1? Will that be a problem for this season?

JM: I hope not. Inside of me, I think also it won't be. Because I think that of course I won't lie to you if I say I was in shock the first time that I heard the news. But then, when I realized about that, I think that inside Suzuki we have very competitive people that are able to manage the situation in the best way. That's why I'm calm. I think that Sahara-san, and inside of Suzuki, they will do what is the best way for Suzuki, and if it's the best way for Suzuki, it's the best chance for me also. So I'm not worried.

Q: Suzuki was very consistent last year, will that be an advantage this year too with the development freeze?

JM: Well, I think that last year we saw a lot of equality of different bikes. The lap times were really close together, and I think this will not change. Of course the package that we had is good, we were competitive in every track, and I think we won't lose this. So I hope it will be like this, and let's cross the fingers.

Q: Will the engine development freeze be an advantage for Suzuki, given how competitive the GSX-RR was at every track?

JM: Well, I think we have margin to improve our engine. It's not the fastest but it's not the slowest. So I think there are other manufacturers that are in a worse position than us, for sure.

We have a balanced bike, a good package, and if we are able to improve a little bit more what we can improve – which is not the engine, the other things – and have something more, we will be even more dangerous for this year.

Q: We haven't seen you training with a Suzuki GSX-R production bike like Alex Rins. Do you have a similar bike to train with? Do you want to train on a track with a production bike?

JM: Well, if you check my Instagram or my Social Media, I don't like to show my training a lot. I show what I want. I have the GSX-R, it's also really beautiful, you can trust me! [Laughs] For sure I make a couple of laps. Not a lot, because I think that probably it's not the best training that you can do, because it's a completely different bike, but for sure I make a couple of hours with that bike, at least a couple of times before the season. So it's like this.

Q: You admitted you had some pressure at the end of last year, what do you expect this year? Did you learn something?

JM: The same. I think that I will have the pressure straight away. Last year, I was feeling the pressure, but for me, it didn't affect me. It was affecting me, but not in a negative way. This is something that we have to do this season. If I have this pressure from the first race, it means that we will be at 100% at the first race. So I think it will be really important and the key for the season to take that pressure in a positive way.

Q: You were very strict last year on managing Covid, isolating yourself, making sure you took no risks, including with your girlfriend. How are you handling it now?

JM: Well, now we took all the measures, the legal measures, but I'm more relaxed. I go to restaurants a couple of times when I can go, and it's a different story. I'm 100% conscious that when the season starts the nightmare will come back! [Laughs]. So it will be like this for everyone, and we will be really strict because we cannot lose any points for this reason, and we have to start the first race doing the same protocol as last year.

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